Thirty-year-old Tiffani Westbrook sat down on the floor in a room full of other mothers and babies at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies. She pulled up her pink-striped tank top, positioned her six-month-old twin boys like footballs — one in each arm — and began breastfeeding. She continued her adult conversation, and within minutes, Judah and Josiah were off crawling on the floor, satisfied and smiling.
But breastfeeding wasn’t always this easy for Rebecca, and she’s not alone. Four out of five women start breastfeeding, but just over half are still at it when the child is six months old — the age to which the World Health Organization recommends that all babies be exclusively breastfed. And at 12 months, only 30 percent of mothers are still breastfeeding.
“It was really hard,” Westbrook said, recalling the first few months after her C-section. “No one had prepared me for how hard it was going to be.”
A desire to breastfeed
Westbrook knew she wanted to breastfeed, but that was all she really knew about breastfeeding before she delivered. So when the two little humans were placed into her arms with suckling instincts already in motion, she had no idea what to do.
“You’re flooded with information after you deliver, but at that time, you’re already swimming uphill,” she said. “So much is happening. I wish someone would have discussed breastfeeding with me when I was pregnant.”
About three months into her pregnancy, Westbrook found out that she was having twins, which almost immediately put her into a higher-risk pregnancy category.
“Because I was higher risk, it was a lot about my pregnancy and not a lot about afterward,” she said.
Luckily, MCR is a Baby-Friendly certified hospital, and breastfeeding is encouraged immediately after delivery. Along with nurses helping latch Westbrook’s newest family members to her breasts only minutes after they were born, a member of the UCHealth Lactation Support Program stopped in to Westbrook’s hospital room to provide information on support classes and lactation consulting.
Westbrook scheduled a one-on-one a week later — four days from her discharge from MCR — with a UCHealth lactation consultant.
“I didn’t even know lactation consulting was a thing,” Westbrook said.
The visit wasn’t soon enough. Within days after the twins were born, Westbrook’s nipples were sore and bleeding, and she felt her babies weren’t getting enough to eat. She made a call to the Lactation Support Program two days before her appointment and the lactation team helped her get a breast pump and provided some much-needed encouragement.
“It’s not uncommon to run into challenges,” said UCHealth lactation consultant Sara Rathmell said. “There are things to make life easier, and education is a big piece.”
Two days later, Rathmell introduced Westbrook to the tandem feeding pillow.
“That was a game changer for me,” Westbrook said.
Support in numbers
Westbrook started attending the weekly breastfeeding support groups, a two hour-long session where breastfeeding moms gather to socialize and learn from each other, see how much their babies are actually eating by weighting the babies before and after a feeding, and ask questions of UCHealth lactation experts.
“It’s encouraging to talk with other moms who may be ahead of the game,” Westbrook said. “I see them going through the different phases, and it helps me realize that I can do this.
“Breastfeeding is just not that easy, and we just don’t talk about how it’s not easy,” she continued. “There are women struggling with undersupply, women struggling with oversupply and then some aren’t struggling, but they can be our resources.”
And though she has two mouths to feed, she said her struggles and what she’s learning apply to most all mothers.
“Be persistent, and never give up on a bad day,” Westbrook said.
Fighting through for the long-term benefits
Once she learned about supply and demand, she started putting her babies to the breast every opportunity she got and eventually, they formed a system to eating. She began watching for cues: Judah would grab his ear when he was hungry and would eat more in less time, while Josiah was a “grazer” but would latch on quickly. And what started as a struggle is now something Westbrook glows with pride about.
“I know I’m giving them the best I can give,” she said. “At no other time in your life do you get exactly what your body needs. A mom’s breast milk is consistently changing to meet their needs. Although it was hard, I’m glad I didn’t give up on those bad days.
“And the bond it creates. With a C-section, I felt a bit removed from their birth … there was this blue curtain … but breastfeeding has helped establish that relationship. And not to mention, it’s just easier to not have to remember to pack formula or make a bottle — I’ve always got what they need.”